On March 21, 2020, my son Charles Lorentz – “Gage,” as we called him – was driving back home to Colorado after completing a job in Texas. Sunday morning, when my son’s best friend alerted me that no one had seen or heard from my son, I knew something was terribly wrong. We began calling police and sheriff departments along the route he generally travelled home in an attempt to locate him. Like any mother, my imagination ran wild with worry. But every worst case scenario I feared paled in comparison to what I eventually found out happened to Gage that night.
After making calls for over an hour, a Sheriff’s department in New Mexico gave me the horrifying details of why Gage had not come home. This detective informed me that there had been an “incident,” as he described it. My son had been shot by a national park ranger, twice. He was dead. Despite the fact that Gage had identification in his truck, no one had bothered to let us know.
Utter lack of transparency and justice
It has taken months to piece together what happened during the traffic stop that led to my son’s killing. Our family had to hire an attorney to make public records requests to piece together the barest outline of what happened. This is what we found: my son had been driving through Carlsbad Caverns National Park when he was pulled over for a minor traffic stop. He was not in possession of drugs or alcohol and the coroner confirmed that he was not intoxicated. My son, who had a peaceful temperament and was level headed by nature, somehow ended up in an altercation with a park ranger that left him dead.
My family thought we would have more answers when, months later, we obtained footage from the body camera the Ranger was wearing. As horrifying as it was to watch, it was more traumatic to discover that right at the moment when things escalated, the video went blank for 26 seconds. Whatever happened during those 26 seconds appears to have been edited out. What I did see was the ranger pressing his gun into the chest of my son, who was lying on the ground already incapacitated by a gunshot to his upper right thigh. The autopsy confirms he was shot in the chest at point blank range.
On its website, the Department of Justice lays out its mission prominently. This mission reads, in part, “to ensure public safety against threats foreign and domestic; to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime; to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior; and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.” You would be hard pressed to find an American who didn’t know it was a crime to shoot to kill a wounded, unarmed man lying on the ground. If our son’s killer were a civilian, he would most certainly be criminally prosecuted. But because our son’s killer is a federal law enforcement officer – one who drank a cup of coffee as my son lay dying on a gravel road – the district attorney declined to press criminal charges.
Our only other chance at justice is to bring a civil rights case against the Ranger who killed Gage. But here again we are faced with the Department of Justice’s hypocrisy in ensuring “fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans”. In March, the government’s attorneys raised qualified immunity to shield the ranger who killed my son, absolving him of any responsibility.
Qualified immunity is a shield and sword wielded to bar a civil suit from proceeding unless there is a previously published case with facts so similar that an officer would have known his actions were “unconstitutional.” A legal precedent in a civil case should not be necessary to know…